Port 1963 Croft
Vintage Port, Oporto
Provenance: Christies South Kensington, 7/19/1999
The early 1800s was a watershed era for the vintners of Portugal’s Douro Valley, On one hand, the grape harvest of 1820, after fermenting and aging for four years, presented connoisseurs with a wine of remarkable sweetness, with “plenty of crust and plenty of color…and a well-stained cork,” according to T.G. Shaw, who recorded his views in Wine, the Vine, and the Cellar (1863), The remarkable vintage established Portuguese wine as a favorite among the British.
Croft is one of the oldest houses in the trade. Since 1581 the monopoly of the city’s commerce had been held by the Merchants Company of York. In 1588, Henry Thompson, member of a prominent Yorkshire family, was admitted to the Company and set up a successful business trading in wine. This firm was to become the Port house in 1678. The Croft family were also distinguished members of the merchant community in York and the Thompson and Croft families certainly knew each other. However it was not until later that the Crofts would become involved in the Thompson business. By 1647 the Thompson company had acquired wine cellars in Bordeaux and had also established itself in Hull, London and Amsterdam. In 1654, England and Portugal had been close trading partners by a new treaty which awarded special privileges to English merchants trading in Portugal including entitlement to lower duties. As a result the Thompson family shifted their focus from France, which was frequently at war with Britain, to Portugal. By that time the firm was led by Richard Thompson who was responsible for transforming the family firm into a Port wine company. In 1707, Richard Thompson began a partnership with two Irishmen, Thomas Phayre and Nathaniel Bradley, the trading name changing frequently as partners joined, retired or died until the two Irishmen left the partnership and were replaced by a new partner, Benjamin Tilden, after which it adopted the name Thompson & Tilden.
The Croft family first became involved in wine shipping through their connection with the distinguished family Thompsons of York when Thomas Croft married Frances, daughter of Sir Stephen Thompson in 1681.
The Port shipping partnership resulted in that their third son, John Croft, was to join the established in 1736 at the age of 42. Shortly afterwards the company became known as Tilden, Thompson and Croft. John Croft remained a bachelor until his death in 1762. The second John Croft was well established in Oporto and active in their Port wine business, but the Crofts never lost touch with their Yorkshire origins. In his treatise, John Croft describes himself as ‘Member of the Factory at Oporto and Wine Merchant of York’. John Croft assured himself a place in history by his ‘Treatise on the wines of Portugal’, a full and detailed work published in 1788. The publication of his Treatise firmly placed the Croft family at the forefront of the Port-producing community based in Oporto. His nephew, John Croft III was born in York but spent most of his life in Portugal, remaining a partner from 1777 to 1800. It was during his time as partner that the firm produced the earliest known Vintage Port, the Croft 1781. This was followed by Vintage Ports from 1784, 1785 and 1786.
Five sons of John’s brother, Stephen, all entered the Port wine business and several went to live in Portugal. The fourth son, Thomas Croft, joined the partnership just three years after the Port wine district had been demarcated by the Marquês de Pombal. Thomas was a man of great ability and influence and the Croft family had by now become very well established and prosperous and 1827 Croft & Co. had become the fourth largest Port shipper.
The family returned to England in the nineteenth century, after the Peninsular Wars, and now there are no longer any Crofts in the firm. Nevertheless, the family maintained its affection for the fortified wines of the Douro and the late Percy Croft, who died in 1935, is credited with the famous words: ‘Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.’
It is from its own famous Quinta da Roêda, in the centre of the Douro valley, that Croft relies on its port production. The quinta was purchased by Croft in 1875.